Published on March 21, 2021 by Lauren Wade

Property law is the area of law that governs various forms of ownership and tenancy in real property (land as distinct from personal or movable possessions), and in personal property, within the English Common Law legal system. This article will aim to give an insight into five property law cases which have shaped English property law.

1. Central London Property Trust Ltd. V High Trees Housing Ltd (1947) KB 130

An agreement from 1937 granted the plaintiffs a 99-year lease over a block of flats. Owing to the Second World War, these properties were never fully occupied as people fled the capital. In order to minimalise losses, the ground rent was reduced from £2,500 per annum to £1,250.

This reduced rate was paid for the period of 1941-1945. Following the conclusion of war in 1945; High Trees Housing Ltd sought to revert back to the £2,500 figure and reclaim back rent. The court held that by virtue of their prior agreement, the plaintiff had relied on the statements made by the respondent.

Key principle:

Promissory Estoppel is established in proprietary matters where one makes a statement which another relies on to their detriment.

2. Street v Mountford (1985) AC 809

Mountford occupied two rooms in Street’s property subject to a weekly rent. The agreement was labelled a licence and contained a clause signed by Mountford agreeing it was not a tenancy. When a dispute arose, the House of Lords was asked to rule on whether this document was a licence or a lease.

A lease would be favourable for Mountford, giving her additional proprietary rights and protection from eviction that a licence would not. The court held that this was in fact a lease due to the presence of:

  • Rent
  • Term Certain
  • Exclusive Possession

Key principle:

If the three essential characteristics for a lease are present, then the tenant more than likely has a lease as opposed to a licence.

How Much Do You Know About Property Law? Quiz

3. Bernstein of Leigh (Baron) v Skyviews and General Ltd. (1978) QB 479

This property law case surrounded the principle of Culus est solum eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos, meaning one can enjoy his land from the highest heavens down to the centre of the Earth. Skyviews were a company that flew over land in order to take aerial photographs from above. They then offered to sell these photographs to the landowners offering an aerial view.

Sidney Bernstein who was then the Chairman of Granada Television objected to this activity. He objected on the grounds of privacy since photos were taken without his consent. The court sided with Skyviews and General Ltd.

Rights are restricted to such height as was necessary for the ordinary use and enjoyment of the land and structures upon it. The defendants’ aircraft did not infringe any rights in the plaintiff’s airspace and thus did not commit any trespass by flying over land for the purpose of taking a photograph.

Key principle:

Courts will only intervene in land matters up to a reasonable height.

4. Parker v British Airways Board (1982) QB 1004

This is one of two key property law cases in English law, clarifying the myth of finders’ keepers where items found on land are concerned. A bracelet was found by a passenger named Parker in an executive lounge, which a section of the public had the right to access based on their ticket class.

He handed the bracelet in and asked for it to be returned to him if the original owner was not identified. However, he found out shortly after that the British Airways Board had sold it afterward, so took the company to court. The court ruled that the item belonged to Parker and that British Airways did not have sufficient control over the area. They should have had signs detailing a lost and found policy.

Key principle:

Where items are found on the land, the default position is that they belong to the ‘finder’ if the original owner cannot be located.

5. Waverley Borough Council v Fletcher (1996) QB 334

This is the second key case in English law, clarifying the myth of finders’ keepers where items found on land are concerned. Fletcher was using a metal detector in a public park. He found a brooch traceable to King Henry Vlll located nine inches underground.

There was some argument that the use of a metal detector was banned in the park. The Council was found to own the brooch seen as it was in as opposed to on the land. Fletcher had gone digging where he may have not been entitled to do so. He unlawfully damaged Waverley Borough Council’s land having not asked permission.

Key principle:

Where items are found in the land, the default position is that they belong to the landowner, if the original owner cannot be located.

Read more about property law

Words: Matthew Knights

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